By BRUCE DENNILL
A Christmas Chorus / Directed by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder / PG
A fictional story that is, sadly, not terribly far from being a documentary, A Christmas Chorus sees top theatre musical director (and award-winning screenwriter) Charl-Johan Lingenfelder guide a cast of actors and singers including Bianca Flanders, Namisa Mdlalose, Dean Balie and Lynelle Kenned and others, all of whom were regulars on stages before COVID-19 arrived.
The story is also largely set in Cape Town’s much-loved Fugard Theatre, shuttered during lockdown once the burden of its running costs became too heavy to bear. South African creatives have a direct link to these people and this venue or to – six degrees of separation-style – people and venues with ties to the cast and crew of the film. Which makes the simple plot of A Christmas Chorus so easy to relate to, so hard on the heart, and so suggestive of the collective passion that will see both art and artists ultimately survive.
The story is a version of one we’ve seen play out many times under lockdown: a group of people with a shared creative urge needing to combine their skills to present something of value to whatever audience they can reach, even if that connection is only virtual. The strength of the film is that it – unlike many other structures, government included – focuses on the artists and the multi-faceted ways in which the removal of their means of making a living, the brake on the development of their potential, and the absence of opportunity in which to express themselves brutally breaks them down. Without being preachy or inaccessibly inward-looking, the film shows its characters (and, in a continuing pandemic context, its cast – in this case, the line is perhaps more blurred than usual) to be desperate but dedicated, depressed but hopeful, worried but caring and, despite the burdens of this emotional complexity, capable of creations of profound, poignant beauty.
Lingenfelder and his cast are in the characters’ situation, personally working through everything portrayed on screen. And the film functions as a tribute to all other artists, in South Africa and beyond, acknowledging the pandemic-induced penury in which many find themselves (an important start – large segments of society still fail to do so) and celebrating both the resilience of the collective muse and the skill with which her call is answered.